Gluck: NASCAR shoots itself in the foot with Tony Stewart penalty – USA TODAY

6 months ago Comments Off on Gluck: NASCAR shoots itself in the foot with Tony Stewart penalty – USA TODAY



Tony Stewart will race this weekend at Richmond International and is looking for a medical exemption in order to participate in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Tony Stewart made news twice on Thursday.

First, he announced a return to NASCAR this weekend at Richmond International Raceway after just eight missed races — a quicker-than-expected comeback from a surgically repaired broken back that should provide a boost for a sport which has struggled lately in attendance and TV ratings.

Second, NASCAR promptly fined Stewart $35,000 for comments he made Wednesday when the driver/team owner expressed deep concerns over a safety-related topic. NASCAR said Stewart violated a rule that says drivers can be penalized for “disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR leadership.”

The result? Once again, NASCAR has figured out a way to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to generating any sort of sustained, positive publicity.

Stewart’s ridiculous, absurd fine will now overshadow his return — news that had already turned his comments about the lack of a lug nut rule into an afterthought. The topic of conversation this weekend was going to be all about Stewart coming back and trying to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff in his final season; now it will shift to NASCAR officials proving how thin-skinned and sensitive they can be.

The comments will get rehashed for those who missed them the first time and their validity will be debated for much longer. NASCAR essentially gave CPR to the news cycle on Stewart’s remarks (which raised valid concerns, by the way) instead of just turning the other cheek.

So what did he say that was worthy of a penalty? During an appearance for sponsor Mobil 1 on Wednesday, Stewart railed against NASCAR abandoning a rule that used to require a wheel to have all five lug nuts. Without enforcement, teams are fastening just three or four lug nuts to generate faster pit stops, which Stewart predicted could lead to disaster if a wheel flew off the car.

“You see the problem getting worse,” he said. “Well if you see a problem getting worse like that, where’s the bottom of that trend going to happen? It’s going to happen when somebody gets hurt, and that’s going to be one of the largest black eyes I can see NASCAR getting when they’ve worked so hard and done such a good job to make it safe. In this one particular area, they are totally dropping the ball on and I feel like really made a grossly bad decision on. “

Stewart’s comments were actually much tamer than some drivers who have spoken out against NASCAR’s dearth of SAFER barriers on the walls in recent years. None of those drivers were fined as a result of their comments and the tracks added more barriers partly due to public pressure.

In addition, Dale Earnhardt Jr. last weekend said NASCAR’s lack of lug nut enforcement freaks him out and added he was “blown away that NASCAR quit officiating that aspect. I could not believe that was the choice that they made.”

Earnhardt wasn’t fine, of course. The difference between the comments was Stewart hurt officials’ feelings and offended them.

Seriously? It seems that way.

During a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said no one has been more of a leader in safety than NASCAR has.

“We do take offense that anything we do is somehow leading towards an unsafe environment so (Stewart is) wrong on that,” France said.

Fans often point to the drivers’ buttoned-up, corporate-speaking personalities today as a reason they miss the old days with characters like Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt. But can you blame modern day drivers if they don’t feel like speaking their minds?

Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are among those who have strong opinions but don’t feel they can truly express themselves. If they do, they get fined. And NASCAR likes it that way, because it deters drivers from criticizing officials.

But when NASCAR is spending millions on trying to market the personalities in its cars and attract a new series title sponsor in the process, short-sighted penalties like the one given to Stewart seem ludicrous.

NASCAR should take Stewart’s comments seriously and work on a solution to a growing problem. Instead, officials would rather shoot the messenger.

Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck

Gluck: NASCAR shoots itself in the foot with Tony Stewart penalty – USA TODAY

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